Keyline Tilling

One of our most successful techniques for improving the soil has been Keyline Tilling, as proposed by P. A. Yeomans back in the fifties.

We use a Yeomans Plough, as designed by P.A. and built by his son Alan:

The aim is to reduce compaction (our soils were like concrete, all over the farm), improve soil structure and water holding capacity.

We use P.A.’s tilling plan, as shown at left.

The diagram is from Water for Every Farm, the republished and edited version of P.A. Yeomans’s work, produced by his son Ken.

Go to Ken’s website to buy a copy, while it’s a difficult read, it’s worth the effort.

The aim of this tilling plan is to get water that falls on the ridge to slowly filter out to the ridge, rather than to run down into the gullies and run away.

So far it works a treat. Paddocks we have treated this way have been transformed. From having 3cm or less of topsoil, poor water retention and a monoculture of kikuyu grass, we now see dozens of species of grasses and herbs, anything up to 40cm of topsoil and water on the ridges after rain, where they used to be dry all the time.

At the same time, compaction is reduced dramatically. Where we used to struggle to set up an electric fence tread-in in anything other than soggy ground (they would just not go into the soil), now we can get them in even in the driest of times.

Here are a few photos showing the process:



The drinking water for our house is stored in a tank up the hill behind the house (10m above the roof line, so we can run sprinklers on the roof in the event of a big fire and simultaneous power outage).

We catch the water in a smaller tank below the house, then use a fire pump to get it up to the big tank. This is inconvenient and costs money every time we pump.

So, our good friend Phil Dorman came to the rescue with a surplus vertical axis windmill kit he had lying around his place:

Jeremy built it while he was staying with us, Chris and I put in the foundations, Annette and Christina painted it and we all had a bit of fun erecting it.

Water pipe burial

Finally, we are starting to bury the water pipe over the property. Here’s Colin the Swiss WWOOFer wielding the trenching machine:

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What a lovely machine it is. I cannot imagine how much work it would take to dig a trench like this by hand. Burning dinosaurs, admittedly, but we only need to do it once and it should last many, many years.

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End result, 4km of trenches and water for stock all over the property and no access for stock to the dams. Happy cattle, with easy access to water and much reduced parasite loads (no-one is drinking out of the toilet any more). Happy us, because it’s so easy to move these troughs around and we’re not drenching cattle any more.

Too much pressure!

Here’s what happens when you have more pressure than a valve can handle. Note the distorted threads where the two halves of the fitting said bye bye:



Not that these failures are particularly Plasson’s fault. We were advised by the guy that sold them to us that the fittings would work in our situation. Unfortunately the valves are rated to 800 kPa, while we have 1100 kPa on the lowest paddock.

When the pipes are still lying on the ground an they heat up to 45 degrees C or so, the rating goes down to 500 kPa or so.

Result? 24,000 litres of water sprayed on paddocks at random, as the valves fail.

Now we have pressure relief valves all over the place and are down to 500 kPa in the lowest spots. Problem solved

Basic farm plan 1 – water

The question is how do we want to farm?

The property is set up to run cattle, so that’s what we will continue to do, as we don’t want the place to get overgrown and turn into a fire hazard.

Using the Keyline Scale of Permanence (and Darren Doherty’s extensions to this), the most important thing directly under our control is water. Basically, get the water right and everything else will follow.

The main things we want to be able to achieve with the water plan is to be able to water stock (and eventually, new plantings and the like) anywhere on the property, with clean water.

We also want to be able to keep the stock out of the various dams on the property, as having them drink out of the toilet is bad for their health. Doing this should reduce their parasite load and drastically reduce the cost to us in managing same (not to mention reducing chemical usage and consequent harm to dung beetles and other critters).

The layout of water looks like this:
Farm water layout
The idea is that we pump water up from the big dam in the gully on the left to the tank at the top of the hill and reticulate through buried poly pipes from there. The pipes run down the centre of all the ridges, so all parts of the property are reached.

The pipes have water take off points every 50 metres, so portable troughs can be plugged in anywhere on the property, which simplifies the organisation of cell grazing on the property.

Thanks to Darren Doherty for the consulting that put this together for us newbies.

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